Raise your hand if you like sushi or sticky rice. If you have a hand up, I can bet that you’d love fan tuan* (飯糰）. Eh? What’s that?
Fan tuan is a breakfast food that is at its simplest, constructed of large air-pocketed deep fried dough (you tiao) and fluffy fried pork bits (less appetizingly named pork floss or pork sung) that are wrapped up in a big bundle of sticky rice. Those are the mere basics, and often times it will also include salted radishes and pickled mustard greens, or whatever the chef deems as additional savory toppings. Fan tuan is most commonly savory, especially the ones I had in Taiwan, though my mom would always tell me that it also came in a sweet version: sticky rice, you tiao, crushed peanuts, and sugar.
I have fond memories of fan tuan in Taiwan- my first visit to Taiwan in 2005 was a high school graduation gift from my grandma. We were walking by a park, and there was a vendor hanging out there. I ordered a fan tuan and tea for breakfast (that had me stuffed for several hours afterwards!)
The sticky rice was piping hot, the you tiao crunchy, and the other fillings piled so high that the vendor pretty much just folded the rice inwards, but was nowhere close to sealing everything together like a burrito. I regret not taking a picture of this so I could show you, because it was one of my fondest memories of good food from that trip back in 2005. (9 years! What can I say? Food memories stick with me.)
*A brief history note: I did some lazy research on fan tuan (google
searches), but I got confused by the internet; searches of history of fan tuan (in Chinese) resulted in the wiki page for onigiri, but the page that wikipedia calls ci fan tuan 粢飯糰 shows a picture of what I know to be fan tuan. So, for all intents and purposes, I will talk about fan tuan as I know it, and I saw it advertised on menus in Taiwan.
My best friend and I made these at her place a few weeks back, and a college classmate who saw Instagram pictures, responded with “need reciipefporfan tuanASAP” [sic]. So, Clinton, I hope you and Peggy make this really soon!
Oh yea, so for those who live in or near somewhere with an abundance of Chinese or Taiwanese people, like the San Gabriel Valley, why should you bother making fan tuan at home?
1) It’s super easy to do.
2) It’s much less expensive than ordering it.
3) It will always taste better because the you tiao will be crispy and crunchy, as opposed to kind of soft, which is a result of vendors or restaurants having to pre-make fan tuan to prepare for the masses.
(During my modest 3 trips to Taiwan, the fan tuan I got were always made fresh to order, so there was never a non-crunchy you tiao issue.)
If you have made sushi before, making fan tuan is just as easy, if not easier!
Rice Roll (Just call it Fan Tuan..)
Makes 1 fan tuan
180 grams (1 cup) short or long glutinous rice, rinsed 3+
times until water is clear, then soaked at least 2 hours (overnight is better)
3-4 Tbsp fish or pork floss (yu song or rou song- 魚鬆/肉鬆）
2 Tbsp minced salted radish (lo bo gan- 蘿蔔乾)（optional)
2 Tbsp minced pickled mustard greens (suan cai – 酸菜）(optional)
Chopped chili peppers (totally optional)
Toasted you tiao (油條), Chinese cruller, or Chinese donut, torn into pieces
Bamboo sushi mat (optional but highly recommended)
1) Arrange the soaked rice in a thin layer (no more than half inch tall) in a steamer that is lined with either parchment paper or thin steaming cloth. Steam the sticky rice (lining the steamer with) for about 20 minutes, or until the grains go from opaque white to almost translucent-esque white (taste some if you aren’t sure). While the rice is steaming, line a bamboo mat with a piece of plastic wrap that is big enough to cover the entire area.
2) If you didn’t have time to soak the rice or don’t have a steamer, go here to this lady’s channel. She basically instructs you to cook the rice in a 1.5 to 1 rice:water ratio in a regular rice cooker, or 2 to 1 rice:water ratio (your call).
3) Spread out the warm rice in a thin layer on the plastic-wrapped lined bamboo mat. You may not need all the rice you steam, so….how much? I did a layer of about 3/8 to 1/2 inch thick, and 6 inches tall/wide. This was with thinner (homemade) youtiao. For most store-bought you tiao, which is larger than the ones I used (I think most people are not going to make their own youtiao), you’ll need a larger rice area. Spread out enough rice so that its area is about 3-4 times the area of the youtiao (bulk of the volume). For the length, do as I say, not as I did- make sure to scoot the rice in from the edges of the bamboo mat- leave one inch of empty mat space on either side of the rice, to account for the lengthening of the rice as you roll and squeeze.
4) Sprinkle the fish or pork floss in the center of the rice, making sure to leave 1- 1 1/2 inches of bare rice on the edges (as shown in the picture). Add the radish, mustard greens, and peppers (all optional) and you tiao in the middle, evenly distributing. 5) Roll everything up as you would do with sushi- roll a small section together , bring the mat back, and add to the roll each time, until all of the contents are rolled up into a rice roll.
6) Slice in half, and enjoy! (Remember to peel the plastic wrap as you go… :D) Substitutions/Notes:
-This is best enjoyed fresh, because of the crunchy inside and rice exterior.
-Make sure you buy or make some doujiang 豆漿 (soymilk) to drink with this!
-Other great add-ins include marinated egg (滷蛋), a fried egg, or pieces of seaweed. My favorite stateside fan tuan is at Four Seas in Hacienda Heights / San Gabriel: 滷蛋酸菜飯糰, which is a marinated egg pickled mustard greens fantuan (no salted radish).
-In Taiwan, they will also make fan tuan with purple sticky rice instead; Feel free to experiment with this!
-If you get greedy with the fillings and the fan tuan can’t close properly, just remember the Taiwanese vendor in the park…It’s okay! You can surely enjoy it just the same.
-If you don’t have a bamboo mat, you could try making it anyway, using just plastic wrap for the rolling step. If you pat the rice down well, it should be sturdy enough to help act as one sheet.
-Got rice? Extra sticky rice, that is? I love it eaten hot with some sugar sprinkled on top..
-Toast the you tiao over the stove on a low heat, or in a toaster oven at 350F; check periodically to see when it is crunchy.